You first notice the sound when you’re lying in bed attempting to sleep: a beating or maybe a throbbing, perhaps a whooshing, inside of your ear. The sound is rhythmic in tune with your heartbeat. And regardless of how hard you try, you can’t tune it out. You have a big day tomorrow and you really need your sleep so this is bad. Not only are you not feeling tired, you feel anxious.
Does this sound familiar? Turns out, tinnitus, anxiety, and sleep are closely associated. And you can see how tinnitus and anxiety might easily conspire to produce a vicious cycle, one that robs you of your sleep, your rest, and can affect your health.
Can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety?
Tinnitus is generally referred to as a ringing in the ears. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. First of all, the actual sound you hear can take a large number of forms, from pulsing to throbbing to ringing and so on. Essentially, you’re hearing a sound that isn’t really there. For many people, tinnitus can occur when you’re feeling stressed, which means that stress-related tinnitus is absolutely a thing.
For people who cope with feelings of fear or worry and anxiety, these feelings frequently interfere with their life because they have difficulty managing them. This can manifest in many ways physically, including as tinnitus. So can tinnitus be triggered by anxiety? Absolutely!
What’s bad about this combo of anxiety and tinnitus?
There are a couple of reasons why this particular combination of tinnitus and anxiety can lead to bad news:
- Tinnitus can often be the first sign of a more significant anxiety attack (or similar occurrence). Once you’ve made this association, any episode of tinnitus (whether related to anxiety or not) could cause a spike in your overall anxiety levels.
- Most people tend to experience tinnitus more often at night. Can ringing in the ears be caused by anxiety? Yes, but the ringing may have also been there during the day but your daily activities simply covered up the symptoms. This can make it harder to get to sleep. And that insomnia can itself cause more anxiety.
There are instances where tinnitus can manifest in one ear and at some point move to both. Sometimes, it can hang around 24/7–all day every day. There are other situations where it comes and goes. Whether continuous or sporadic, this combination of anxiety and tinnitus can have health consequences.
How does tinnitus-anxiety affect your sleep?
Your sleep loss could absolutely be the result of anxiety and tinnitus. Here are several examples of how:
- Most individuals sleep in environments that are intentionally quiet. It’s nighttime, so you turn off everything. But your tinnitus can be much more obvious when everything is silent.
- The longer you go without sleeping, the easier it is for you to get stressed. As your stress level rises your tinnitus gets worse.
- The sound of your tinnitus can be stressful and hard to overlook. In the quiet of the night, your tinnitus can be so persistent that you lie awake until morning. As your anxiety about not sleeping increases, the sound of the tinnitus symptoms can get louder and even harder to ignore.
When your tinnitus is due to anxiety, you might fear an anxiety attack is coming as soon as you hear that whooshing noise. This can, understandably, make it very difficult to sleep. But lack of sleep results in all kinds of issues.
How lack of sleep affects your health
As this vicious cycle keeps going, the health affects of insomnia will become much more significant. And your overall wellness can be negatively affected by this. Here are a few of the most common impacts:
- Slower reaction times: When you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, your reaction times are more lethargic. Driving and other daily activities will then be more dangerous. And it’s particularly dangerous if you operate heavy machinery, for example.
- Poor work results: It should come as no shock that if you can’t get to sleep, your job efficiency will suffer. Your thinking will be sluggish and your mood will be more negative.
- Increased stress and worry: When you don’t sleep, it makes those anxiety symptoms already present even worse. A vicious cycle of mental health related symptoms can occur.
- Greater risk of cardiovascular disease: Over time, lack of sleep can begin to affect your long-term health and well-being. You could find yourself at an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
Other causes of anxiety
Tinnitus, of course, is not the only cause of anxiety. And knowing these causes is important (largely because they will help you prevent anxiety triggers, which as an added bonus will help you decrease your tinnitus symptoms). Some of the most common causes of anxiety include the following:
- Stress response: Our bodies will have a normal anxiety response when something causes us stress. That’s great if you’re being chased by a lion. But it’s not so good when you’re working on a project for work. oftentimes, the connection between the two isn’t very clear. Something that caused a stress response a week ago could cause an anxiety attack today. Even a stressor from a year ago can trigger an anxiety attack now.
- Hyperstimulation: An anxiety reaction can happen when someone gets overstimulated with too much of any one thing. Being in a crowded place, for instance, can cause some individuals to have an anxiety response.
- Medical conditions: In some instances, you might simply have a medical condition that makes you more susceptible to an elevated anxiety response.
Other causes: Some of the following, less common factors might also trigger anxiety:
- Certain recreational drugs
- Exhaustion and sleep deprivation (see the vicious cycle once again)
- Use of stimulants (that includes caffeine)
- Lack of nutrition
This list is not exhaustive. And if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should talk to your provider about treatment options.
Treating anxiety-induced tinnitus
In terms of anxiety-related tinnitus, there are two basic choices available. You can either try to treat the anxiety or treat the tinnitus. In either case, here’s how that may work:
In general, anxiety disorders are treated in one of two ways:
- Medication: Medications might be utilized, in other circumstances, to make anxiety symptoms less prevalent.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic strategy will help you recognize thought patterns that can unintentionally exacerbate your anxiety symptoms. By interrupting these thought patterns, patients are able to more effectively prevent anxiety attacks.
There are a variety of ways to treat tinnitus and this is especially true if symptoms manifest primarily at night. Here are some common treatments:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When you suffer from tinnitus, CBT techniques can help you produce new thought patterns that accept, acknowledge, and lessen your tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machine: Utilize a white noise machine when you’re trying to sleep. Your tinnitus symptoms may be able to be masked by this approach.
- Masking device: Think of this as a white noise machine you wear next to your ears. This can help reduce how much you notice your tinnitus.
You could get better sleep by dealing with your tinnitus
You’ll be in danger of falling into a vicious cycle of anxiety and tinnitus if the whooshing and ringing are keeping you awake at night. Dealing with your tinnitus first is one possible solution. Give us a call so we can help.